I’ve always written with the thought that getting the story down was the most important thing initially, and that going back later to fix everything up was the right way to do it. I felt vindicated in this belief when I read in Stephen King’s book on writing a similar directive. Paraphrasing from memory, I recall him saying that you shouldn’t stop to check facts or use a dictionary or thesaurus to find just the right word because that could be done later, and to just keep writing, striking while the iron is hot, so to speak. It’s kind of like building a house: you put up the walls, put in the floors, get the basic house put together, and then you take the time to go back and add the paint and wallpaper and whatever else you have to do to make it pretty.
But of late, it seems that I’m spending just as much or more time editing and fixing up as I did writing, and I find myself wondering if there isn’t a better way to go about this.
That made me remember something I’d read long ago that Dean Koontz said back in the day when he was still known as Dean R. Koontz. In fact, he had to have said this way, way back in the day as it involved writing using a typewriter, and I can’t imagine that anyone, let alone a prolific writer like him, would still use a typewriter. He said that he never goes on to the next page until the page he is writing is perfect content-wise. I think he added something cutesy to it about how he wastes a lot of paper but in the long run, he saves a lot of time.
I’m not sure I bought that back when I first read it, and I’m still not sure I’d buy that now. What if, later in the story, you come up with a twist that didn’t occur to you until then; under Koontz’s dictum, would you just say, forget it, or maybe try to use that twist in another book? To me, part of the beauty of word processing on computers is the ability they give the writer to make changes without having to go back and manually retype page after page after page. You can go back and add whatever change or foreshadowing you need to and you’re ready to go again.
In my most recent work, I initially tried doing a review of what I’d written every few chapters in the hopes this would keep me from spending quite so many hours just making basic corrections once I was done with the initial draft. However, I found that distracting from the goal of actually writing, and decided to plow on rather than edit as I went. Now that I’m starting to edit, I’m wondering if I hadn’t given it up too soon. But I have also noticed that the first 50 or so pages I ‘pre-edited’ are still full of things I now want to change. The bottom line seems to be that ‘pre-editing’ didn’t do me any good whatsoever.
Getting your writing right the first time certainly seems to work for Koontz. I googled him but couldn’t find a listing of how many books he’s written in his career, but did see that he’s had 14 hardcover and 14 paperbacks get to the number one spot on best-seller lists. Even if you don’ t like the type of books he writes, that’s a pretty impressive achievement.
Stephen King, who advocates writing now-editing later, has written fifty-five books and over 200 short stories. With that kind of output, editing later hasn’t seemed to slow him down. (For King, I couldn’t find anything that told me how many of his books reached number one, but it has to be more than a few.)
Until or unless I can come up with some alternative method, I’m on Stephen King’s side of the fence, all for getting it done, warts and all, and then dealing with the consequences. I’d be interested in knowing if there are any Koontz-like perfectionists out there who can work on a book and then, when they either actually or metaphorically type ‘The End,’ are actually done with it.